I’ve spent most of my adult life single, trying to date, dating, or recovering from a breakup. And though two of the ‘big life questions’ that hovered over me — will I ever get married and to whom — were answered nearly two years ago, the struggle to love and receive love is an ongoing process. After all, wedding vows are simply promises to love. Marriage is the long, hard, but rewarding work of learning how to keep those promises.
Alicia Akins, a writer based in Washington, D.C., decided to take some of the most painful questions single women seeking marriage ask and seek answers for in scripture. Her ‘Single Ladies Catechism’ consists of 31 questions, one for each day of the month, with answers rooted in the Bible. It’s a resource that I would have loved as a single woman and one I will use even now as a married woman.
Alicia corresponded with me over email to discuss her new catechism and her hope that it will bring readers closer to God.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Juliet Vedral, Sojourners: What inspired you to create the "Single Ladies Catechism"?
Alicia Akins: The tears of friends. I open one of the posts from the series on singleness I began last summer, "Enough is Enough," quoting a hard conversation I had with a friend about marriage and singleness. This catechism ultimately is the result of that phone call, the most recent installment of me trying to find words to encourage my friend. Only this time, it was a touch more personal. When I hung up the phone with my friend, I began to pray for the right words. Over the following weeks, other women came to me with their singleness wounds too and I thought, why not encourage them all at once? So, I planned a prayer night. I wrote a series on singleness meant to be something of a devotional for people to reflect on in the lead up to the event. I also told the women I’d invited that they’d each get 30 days of personalized prayer. I asked them weekly for prayer requests related to singleness and every other week, I’d write out prayers for them and email them to them. Around that same time, my church was studying creeds and confessions and I thought it’d be a neat idea to write one for single women to remind us of the truths that seem so out of reach in the midst of dating/singleness frustration when we most need them. I felt, with this issue, that we were largely catechized by default by the culture. The catechism seemed like a useful format to foil that.
Vedral: What went into the process? How did you determine the "jurisdictions"?
Akins: A tremendous amount of listening, prayer, vulnerability and theological reflection. When we studied creeds and confessions I kept two things in mind that my pastor had said about catechisms as I wrote: The first, that everyone is catechized by something, so I tried to think about how the culture provided answers to these questions and second, that the closer a catechism is to scripture the more powerful it is.
There were some things I wrote that felt very bare and honest. I couldn’t bring myself to include more than a short sentence about my own heartache, but I felt it was important to say something. I spent a ton of time on, “Am I seen?” and “Am I beautiful?” because I never have good answers for these for myself when I need them. The answer to the first question felt particularly raw for me, and I considered changing it. Throughout, I wrestled with whether to use “we” or “I” in the questions and answers and settled, after much back and forth, on using “I/me” exclusively for self-worth issues since they’re so personal and "we/us" for almost everything else. Lastly, I spent a ton of time pouring over scripture.
The jurisdictions arose organically from the questions actually. I started with a tangled mass of questions and then, because I love spreadsheets, I copied them each into one. I wanted to have some order since catechisms are organized by an overarching theme. I did not begin with the jurisdictions, but I did know I wanted to focus on sovereignty at least generally over our experience as singles, because we are quick to credit countless other things for our still being single aside from that.
Vedral: How do you hope the catechism will be used?
Akins: Like preventative medicine, to keep from being waylaid by fear or discouragement in the first place; like a first aid kit, if you find yourself freshly heartbroken or insecure; or as part of group liturgy or daily private devotions since the scripture is provided. I hope it will be used ultimately doxologically, leading people to worship. If I or someone else wanted to throw another single ladies prayer night, which I hope happens, I imagine they could read portions of this either beforehand in preparation, or together as a call and response, like churches sometimes do with the Apostle's Creed.
I also hope men will read it! Single men, so they know better how to pray for their single women friends, to understand some of what might be hard for us, and to remember that as they go out and date this is what is true of the women whose hearts they are after. And for fathers to teach their daughters, as catechisms are often taught to kids. Teaching a little girl that she’s seen, that she’s beautiful, that she’s chosen, [and] that being married isn’t the height of what it means to be loved. Maybe even adapted for married couples experiencing infertility.
Vedral: As I read it, only a couple of years removed from my own long singleness, it struck me that it's useful for those who are married as well. After all, the desire to be seen, wanted, loved, and chosen and the temptation to despair or feel that God doesn't care, and to make marriage an idol, don't go away once you are married. It seems that there are some honest conversations that aren't happening between men and women who are married and men and women who are single. Would this type of dialogue even be helpful to single women? Sorry to make you represent all single women.
Akins: I think this kind of dialogue would definitely be helpful, at least to me. I shared the catechism with a married friend and she said she envied women who were able to work through their ‘marriage-as-an-idol’ issue or insecurities before they got married, because it causes so much trouble in marriage. I myself have benefited from hearing married people speak candidly about the challenges they’d assumed marriage would fix that it didn’t. I think even among single men and women, there’s room for dialogue about how we experience prolonged singleness (not just harping on dating culture) and how we can support each other in it. I feel woefully ignorant about how my Christian brothers experience singleness, and how, if at all, I might shoulder that burden with them. It can be hard to be honest, but oh so helpful when it’s done thoughtfully and prayerfully for the others’ good.
Vedral: What are you working on next?
Akins: I have a few shorter pieces I’d like to write in the coming months, a couple more to finish up my singleness series including one on Psalm 16 — the heartbeat of my thoughts on why singleness can be rich. I’d also like to explore friendship and community a bit on my blog, as well as rest and contentment.
Also, last year several friends encouraged me to consider writing a book, so that’s something on my list for this year which I hope to begin this summer. Who knows what will come of it, but my prayer for all my writing is the same — to grow a deeper, more confident love for God and his people in my readers.